Al Qaeda vs. The Mouse

Aug. 14, 2006
A mouse tail of security at one of America's favorite vacation destinations

Those that are regular readers (both of you) may have noticed that I was conspicuous by my absence last week. I observed the first anniversary of my association with by making a pilgrimage, as millions have done before me, to a hallowed place south and east where offerings are made to the graven image of a sacred, holy beast. The beast in question is a rodent that, unlike those found in nature, has impossibly large, black ears and wears bright yellow shoes. I spent last week at Disney World.

I have said this many times: what Disney does, they do better than anyone else in the world. Part of this is because they have 50 years of practice at running theme parks, and part is because they are constantly fine tuning their game. There is no "because we're always done it that way" at Disney. If something isn't as perfect as it can possibly be, it is re-engineered. This results in a near-complete suspension of disbelief for the "guests" in the park, and helps them to forget that they just dropped $10 for a huge Mickey hand on a stick that is going to become landfill as soon as their kid sees some other trinket he or she wants.

Disney has always encouraged partnering with corporate America to sponsor or build the attractions in their parks. Kodak is behind several very good 3-D shows, and while the Test Track at Epcot is a pretty good ride, it is also a shameless commercial for General Motors. They may have taken these marketing opportunities a bit too far, though. A small sign found above the sinks in many Disney rest rooms reads:

  1. Wet hands under faucet.
  2. Dispense soap onto hands - rub briskly.
  3. Rinse hands and dry with paper towel.

The instructions end with the logo of a major paper products manufacturer. If any of you reading this work for this company, please enlighten me: why do you think that anyone who would benefit from a placard like this would know how to read?

In the early 90s, my late wife and I were visiting Disneyland in California, having just attended an officer survival seminar that was presented across the street from the park. I had made arrangements to get a behind-the-scenes tour of Disney Security through a friend with some connections there. I found the briefing fascinating. At that time, Disney would not willingly permit a firearm to be brought onto its property. On duty law enforcement officers with official business at the park were encouraged to wait in the security office while whomever they wanted to see was brought to them. Off duty officers who were carrying guns were asked to store them in the security office. If they refused, they were escorted off the property. Disney won't tell you that you can't carry your gun, but they can refuse your business. The security manager was emphatic that no Disney security officer has even been, or ever will be, armed. I thought this was impressive, but maybe a bit naive. The security manager was apparently oblivious to my wife's 9mm semi-auto, plus two reload magazines, carried in her fanny pack, or the .38 Chief's Special that I was wearing on my ankle. Oh, well--what he didn't know didn't hurt him, or anyone else. Keep in mind, I felt pretty safe in the park. It was the two blocks between the park and the hotel that gave me cause for concern.

I hadn't been to Disney World since around 1998, and I saw a big change in Disney Security since then. Most of the security officers I saw in the parks last time were in "theme" costumes, in blazers and slacks, in plainclothes, and rarely, in uniform. Now, many more are in uniform, and the uniforms are much more police-like: round uniform caps with gold chinstraps, light blue shirts, dark blue trousers, and a silver badge. They wear plain belts or a Sam Browne, but no guns (at least none that I saw). There are armed local law enforcement officers detailed to patrol the parks in cars and on foot.

Bags are searched at the entrance to all of the parks, although the search is more for show than effect. I am certain that I could have smuggled any number of weapons in, had I been inclined to do so. There were no metal detectors, so the gun-on-the-ankle trick would have worked as well this last week as it did fourteen years ago.

I can understand Disney's thinking here. Violent incidents in the parks are relatively rare. Alcohol is sold in only a few locations, and there is ample video and bare-eyes surveillance at all times. Most guests are there with their families, not with their homeboys. The desire to create the illusion of a a sanctuary from the evils of the world is not consistent with a big security presence.

Of course, last week we all got a wake-up call on security issues when the Brits, bless their watercress-eating hearts, took down a terrorist cell before they managed to get several martyrs-in-training on board aircraft bound for the United States. Before and after that reminder, being the Gloomy Gus that I am, I couldn't help but look around Disney World and think, "Wouldn't this be a swell place to stage a terrorist incident?" In the midst of all this conspicuous consumption, and with citizens from all around the world in attendance, shoot up Main Street USA, or release nerve gas into "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience," or just drop in a dirty bomb or tactical nuke and turn the Reedy Creek Improvement District into a glass crater.

A few months back I heard Lt. Col. Dave Grossman speak, and one of the points he made was that an armed person with a little training could have made short work of the incidents at Columbine High School and Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, AR, just by being in place to take out the shooters before they could complete their intended missions. This is not a cheery thought, but it's a better outcome than what actually took place when the shooters knew that they could work without distraction or threat. I also not suggesting that a two-inch revolver is a fair match against a deadly nerve agent or a nuclear explosive, or even against a man with an AK-47. The advantage would come in having the element of surprise, when the bad guy thinks that all before him are lambs for the slaughter. Deploying a few sheepdogs with the lambs has been an effective deterrent against predators of real sheep; there's no reason to believe that it wouldn't work as well with the metaphorical variety.

So, if you have the capacity to lawfully carry a firearm, and you haven't been doing it for all of the usual reasons, rethink this. If it became known that covert sheepdogs were deployed among the flock, some predators might decide to stay home and wait for the next Simpsons episode to come on.

Tim Dees, CPP, is an ASIS member and currently serves as the editor of, a sister website to is tailored for the information and community needs of sworn law enforcement officers.